Postmedia’s two main political columnists in Alberta’s daily newspapers blasted Premier Jason Kenney for his weak response to UCP MLAs who ignored government recommendations to stay home and cancel all non-essential international travel to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
At least four UCP MLAs, including Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard, parliamentary secretary Jeremy Nixon, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, hopped on planes and jetted off to hot holiday destinations this December. Kenney’s chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, also travelled to the United Kingdom to visit family.
While most of us were painfully isolating ourselves from family and friends, trying to decide if we should even risk the grocery store, these people were heading to Hawaii, Mexico the U.K. and the U.S.
By Saturday morning there were seven confirmed UCP politicians and officials who jumped ship for holiday, the latest being MLAs Tanya Fir and Jeremy Nixon.
Maybe Kenney can’t fire any because there are so many. This is a genuine scandal that shows no sign of fading away.
Alberta’s oldest newly rebranded separatist party has a new interim leader, maybe.
A now deleted tweet from the newly renamed Wildrose Independence Party announced that former Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman is the new interim leader of the party. Unless the party’s account was hacked, it would appear that Hinman is launching another attempt at a political comeback.
The press release included with the now deleted tweet said that Hinman would speak to his new role at this week’s Freedom Talk “Firewall Plus” conference, a pro-separatist event organized by former Wildrose candidate and right-wing online radio show host Danny Hozak that features speakers including former arch-Conservative MP Rob Anders, conservative lawyer John Carpay, Postmedia columnist John Robson, and federal Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan.
The name change does not appear to have been approved by Elections Alberta, which still lists the party under its most recent previous name on its official website. But it was reported last week that former Wildrose activist and FCP candidate Rick Northey was the party’s new president. Former Social Credit leader James Albers is also on the party’s executive.
The oldest newest separatist party on Alberta’s right-wing fringe should not be confused with the also recently renamed Independence Party of Alberta (formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party and now led by past UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell), the Alberta Advantage Party (led by former Alberta Alliance Party president Marilyn Burns), and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance (led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise).
The United Independence Party name was also recently reserved with Elections Alberta, presumably by another former Wildrose candidate trying to start another new separatist party.
But back to the new interim leader of the new separatist Wildrose party…
The grandson of former Social Credit MLA and cabinet minister Edgar Hinman, Paul Hinman’s first foray into provincial electoral politics saw him elected in Cardston-Taber-Warner as the lone Alberta Alliance MLA in the 2004 election. Hinman inherited the leadership of the tiny right-wing party when Randy Thorsteinson (who had previously helped found the Alberta First Party) failed to win his election in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake. He endorsed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton in 2006 and led the party through an eventual split and re-merger with a faction branding itself as the Wildrose Party – and thus the Wildrose Alliance was formed.
Hinman lost his seat in the 2008 election in a rematch with former PC MLA Broyce Jacobs. He announced plans to step down as leader shortly afterward and then surprised political watchers when he won a 2009 by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore, pumping some momentum behind Danielle Smith when she won the party’s leadership race a few months later.
In 2010, Hinman was joined by floor crossing PC MLAs Heather Forsyth, Guy Boutilier, and Rob Anderson (who four years later crossed the floor back to the PC Party and now hosts a Facebook video show where he promotes Alberta separatism), but, despite the party’s electoral breakthrough in 2012, Hinman was again unable to get re-elected.
More recently, Hinman launched a brief bid for the UCP leadership in 2017, announcing a campaign focused on parental rights and conscience rights, but when the Sept 2017 deadline to deposit the $57,500 candidate fee passed, he did not make the cut. Hinman later endorsed Jason Kenney‘s candidacy.
Now he might be taking over the interim leadership of the fledgeling fringe separatist party at a time when public opinion polls show that Albertans’ appetite for leaving Canada is cooling as memory of the 2019 federal election fades. If historic trends hold, then the desire for separatism will drop if it looks like the next federal Conservative Party leader can form a government in Ottawa.
Separatism is ever-present on the fringes of Alberta politics and is more of a situational tendency than a real political movement with legs but a half-organized separatist party could syphon votes away from the UCP in the next provincial election.
And with next October’s Senate nominee election likely to be a showdown between candidates aligned with the federal Conservative Party led by whoever wins this summer’s leadership race and the federal Wexit Party led by former Conservative MP Jay Hill, expect the UCP to be paying a lot of attention to these fringe separatist groups sniping at its right-flank.
If he actually does become the leader of the oldest newest separatist party, Hinman will provide some profile and credibility in political circles where conservatives are perpetually disgruntled with New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and newly disgruntled with Premier Kenney, presumably for not pushing hard enough for Alberta’s separation from Canada.
While much of my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta focused on Canadian politics, one of my favourite courses covered a topic far away from the prairies – the Habsburg Monarchy. It was a combination of an unfamiliar topic and a passionate professor that made this course memorable. So my interest was piqued when the words “South Tyrol” began circulating in Alberta political circles this week.
“Should Alberta be an autonomous Province? South Tyrol has” asked Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt in a Facebook post linking to a website showcasing facts about the autonomous province in northern Italy.
I expect many German-speaking South Tyroleans would probably prefer to re-join their linguistic cousins in Austria than remain in Italy.
I am not sure which other province or region Alberta would join if we adopt what might be Pitt’s version of an autonomous-province. Perhaps Frederick Haultain’s dream of a Province of Buffalo could be finally be realized if Alberta merged with its smaller cousin to the east, Saskatchewan? Or maybe British Columbia’s Peace Country will finally be released to unite with its northwestern Alberta cousins?
But Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is certainly whittling down the number of possible candidates.
Stephan apologized to the Legislative Assembly this week after describing other Canadian provinces as “hostile, parasitic partners” in a speech about federal fiscal policies and equalization program.
The rookie MLA and sole UCP backbencher appointed to the powerful Treasury Board committee also claimed that “Alberta must liberate itself from this mess.”
While Alberta is not going to separate from Canada, the final report from the government-appointed Fair Deal Panel will include recommendations to increase provincial autonomy from Ottawa.
The panel and its open-mic town hall meetings were both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep control of the latest burst of separatist fervour. The separatist fervour from Alberta’s right-wing fringe, despite the media attention it generated, now appears to have mostly died out.
The panelists included former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, former Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, Peter Lougheed‘s son Stephen, and perennially disgruntled UCP backbencher MLA Drew Barnes of Cypress-Medicine Hat and fellow backbenchers Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis and Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. The panel was tasked with making recommendations on topics including withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency, opting out of federal programs like pharmacare, forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer, and forming a provincial police force.
The NWMP had been created in 1873 and was part of the federal government’s suppression of the North West Rebellion in 1885, but, by 1917, Ottawa’s attention was focused on the First World War and there was little federal interest in enforcing provincial prohibition laws that had been enacted in 1916.
The APP merged into the RCMP in 1932 following negotiations between the provincial and federal governments during the Great Depression. The agreement to offload the costs associated with policing to the RCMP stipulated that former provincial police officers who transferred to the federal police would maintain their seniority and be eligible to receive pensions in accordance with their years of service.
When officers hung up their blue APP uniforms on April 15, 1932, it was reported in the Calgary Daily Herald that it took more than a month for the red RCMP uniforms to arrive in Alberta. So during the short period following the return of the federal police, RCMP officers worked in civilian clothes or, for those who worked as police in Alberta before 1917, wore the uniforms of the old NWMP.
While Alberta politicians have generally expressed pleasure with contracting policing responsibilities to the federal government, there have been several attempts to reinstate a provincial police force.
The next notable attempt to reinstate the APP came in 1937 from Edson MLA Joseph Unwin, the Whip of the Social Credit government caucus. Unwin introduced a motion to abolish the RCMP in Alberta and replace it with an Alberta Provincial Police Force.
Unwin argued that it was preferable that “the police force in the province should be indisputably at the exclusive orders of the attorney general.” Given this comment and the context of the time, it is fairly safe to speculate that Unwin was hoping to create a police force that would enforce the Social Credit ideological and political agenda in Alberta.
Unwin introduced the motion the same week he was arrested on charges of libel and counselling to murder in what would become known as the Bankers’ Toadies scandal.
Unwin and British Social Credit expert George Frederick Powell were arrested when police raided the party headquarters following the printing of a pamphlet advocating the “extermination” of nine prominent Edmontonians. The nine men, labelled as “Bankers’ Toadies,” included Conservative Party leader David Duggan and Senator and former mayor William Griesbach.
Unwin was sentenced to 3-months hard labour for the libel charge, which was later overturned on appeal. He did not resign as an MLA when he went to jail and his return to the Legislature was celebrated by Social Credit MLAs with a “snake dance” on the floor of the Assembly.
Various PC MLAs called for the creation of a provincial police force during the 1980s and early 1990s but most of those calls were quickly discredited because they were usually followed closely by racist comments about RCMP officers wearing turbans or speaking French.
Anti-oil patch activist Wiebo Ludwig called for the creation of a provincial police force during his brief run for the Social Credit Party leadership in 2000 before having withdraw from the race after a judge refused to waive the conditions of his bail.
Motions recommending the creation of a regional police force or to make public studies conducted to assess the creation of a provincial police force were introduced by Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths in 2003 and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol in 2004 were debated in the Legislature but gained no real traction.
Premier Ed Stelmach defeated Morton in the leadership race and signed a 20-year agreement with the federal Conservative government that would have the RCMP continue as Alberta’s police force until March 31, 2032.
“This is wonderful news for the province and for Albertans,” Stelmach said in an August 2011 press release. “This agreement makes good financial sense for Alberta and strengthens a valuable relationship with a partner who continues to play a key role after more than a century keeping Alberta communities safe.”
The Fair Deal report will have to be publicly released before we know for sure what it recommends, but a move to create a new provincial police force in 2020 would face two powerful political factors
First, systematic racism and police violence against people of colour in the Canada and the United States has led to mounting calls to “defund the police.” Massive protests calling out systematic racism have taken place across the country, including a 15,000-strong rally outside the Legislature in Edmonton and similar rallies in Calgary and around the province. City councils and police commissions are now facing increased public pressure to reign in budgets and address systematic racism in the civilian police forces.
Second, Kenney has said that a great reckoning is coming for Alberta’s finances, which will likely mean more massive job cuts in the public sector across Alberta. If the Kenney is laying-off teachers and nurses, it will be difficult for him to explain to Albertans that he needs to spend money on creating a brand new police force. A lack of finances was the main reason why the provincial police were disbanded in 1932.
Creating a new provincial police force in this context would be incredibly tone deaf and completely unnecessary. But like many political decisions being made in Alberta lately, the world appears to be moving in one direction and our government moving in another. It kind of reminds me of those Habsburgs just over a century ago.
Mintz’s panel will be tasked with providing economic advice to the government in light of the recent drop in oil prices. Mintz tweeted the idea about 5 hours before Kenney announced it, leaving political observers to wonder which came first: the tweet or the appointment?
The challenges facing Alberta has been clear for a long time: the Alberta government is over-reliant on revenues from unreliable oil and gas royalties to fund the daily operations of government. This has been the case for decades, including all the previous times the international price of oil has collapsed, leaving the province in an economic crisis.
The need to find alternative revenue streams is something the UCP and previous governments have been unable to accept or accomplish.
Kenney has already said a provincial sales tax is off the table, so a major solution favoured by many economist is likely a non-starter.
Mintz’s views about government spending and economics are no secret in Alberta, nor are they to Conservative politicians and political leaders who he has lent his advice to in the past. While it might be unfair to prejudge Mintz’s yet-to-be-named panel, it would be a great surprise if a strong dose of austerity, privatization, or a version of Janice MacKinnon’s Report on steroids were not included in its advice.
As one of the province’s most prominent conservative economists his appointment to lead this panel is probably predictable, but it is his political views that make the choice more interesting.
For years, Mintz has moonlighted as a political pundit in the pages of the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, penning a regular opinion column that has included some fairly cringeworthy claims targeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s federal Liberal government, Alberta’s former New Democratic Party government and, more recently, providing fuel for supporters of Wexit and Alberta’s separation from Canada.
While the advice given by Mintz’s panel will certainly be of interest to many Albertans, how his own political views are reflected in the recommendations might be just as interesting, and concerning, to watch.
The Alberta government’s much talked about energy war room now has its General. Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced yesterday that Tom Olsen has been hired as the managing director of the newly incorporated Canadian Energy Centre. The $30-million publicly funded private corporation is part of the UCP’s “fight back strategy” to counter claims made by critics of the oil and gas industry that Premier Jason Kenney said will target politicians, media and other opinion leaders, and could include satellite offices overseas.
After years as a columnist and reporter for the large daily newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton, Olsen jumped into politics when he was hired as Premier Ed Stelmach’s spokesperson in 2007. (Olsen’s brother, Gordon Olsen, worked in senior roles in the Premier’s Office while Ralph Klein occupied the office).
In 2008, the Alberta government launched a website called “For the Record” that was dedicated to correcting what the government determined was incomplete or incorrect information in the media. “It’s not a forum to argue philosophy and spin. . . it’s not debating the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue. It’s about factual information,”Olsen told the Calgary Herald in December 2008. “I don’t see it as government policing journalists.”
It was the government policing journalists, and it did not last very long. The government website posted six corrections to news stories from various media outlets between November 2008 and December 2010. The website briefly became a source of controversy when Olsen insisted the Globe & Mail be referred to as the Toronto Globe & Mail. The website was later edited to drop Toronto from the newspaper’s name.
Olsen later worked as a lobbyist for groups including the Calgary Residential Rental Association, Greyhound and the national group representing Pay Day Loan companies. He found himself back in the Progressive Conservative Party fold when he became Vice-President of Communications during Jim Prentice‘s brief time as party leader.
Savage, a former pipeline lobbyist and now a member of the war room board of directors along with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said this week that the war room will include a rapid response centre, an energy literacy unit and a data research unit. Former Postmedia columnist Claudia Cattaneo was hired in August 2019 by the government to write the Energy War Room Strategic plan.
In an interview with the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, Postmedia President and CEO Andrew MacLeod said that the lobby effort was part the company’s effort to find new revenue streams and that it had no relationship to editorial decision-making (meanwhile, the front cover of the Postmedia-owned National Post today featured a paid political advertisement attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group that represents many of Canada’s oil and gas companies, is also registered to lobby Alberta MLAs, the Minister of Energy and the Premier’s Office to share and advise on best practices for the war room to counter misinformation.
Postmedia’s past relationship with CAPP is no secret, but these group’s business relationships with the war room could be.
As CBC’s Michelle Bellefontaine reported today, as a private corporation the Canadian Energy Centre will be exempt from freedom of information requests, meaning that Albertans might not ever know how much of the $30 million is paid to Postmedia, CAPP or whichever UCP-connected PR firms are hired to work for the publicly-funded private war room.
Regardless of which PR companies or Toronto-based newspaper company gets hired, Olsen will have his job cut out for him. The first order of business for the new Canadian Energy Centre might be playing defence for the Alberta government’s $2.5 million public inquiry into anti-oil campaigns – an effort that has been criticized as a witch-hunt by groups like EcoJustice and the venerable Amnesty International.
While it may be easy for Kenney to dismiss NGOs and suggest that the 4,000 Albertans participating in the climate strike protest outside the Legislature were communist sympathizers, Olsen’s war room will have a harder time dismissing its greatest opponent – the free market.
Many major international oil and gas corporations have withdrawn their investments in Canada’s oilsands over the past five years, and the UCP’s decision to scale back the Alberta government’s climate change commitments certainly will not help how our province is perceived internationally.
Conservatives howled loudly this week as a major Norwegian pension fund withdrew investments in four Alberta-based oilsands companies. The move was described by UCP supporters online as hypocritical, as Norway continues to make investments in its own off-shore oil and gas platforms. The move may have been hypocritical, but those are the types of decisions that countries like Norway can make when they have $1.1 trillion saved in the bank (something for Albertans to think about when they consider how much past governments have squandered our wealth).
Olsen’s biggest challenge might be to prove that the war room is more than a $30-million public relations subsidy to Alberta’s oil and gas companies.
Public attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change are shifting dramatically, and Alberta risks becoming increasingly isolated on energy and climate issues on the national and international stage. Judging from the Alberta government’s numerous high-profile efforts over the past two decades to correct what it saw as misinformation about the oilsands and fight environmental advocates outside the province, the war room might be an example of the UCP preparing to fight the last war.
A short history of Alberta government advertising campaigns and initiatives aimed at critics of oil and gas companies (I am sure I have missed a few):
2002: the Alberta government announced and later scrapped plans for an anti-Kyoto Accord advertising campaign in Ontario after focus group testing proved the messaging was unpopular among Torontonians.
2008: the Alberta government launched a public relations campaign targeting critics of the oilsands outside of Alberta, which included a 20-page glossy brochure entitled Alberta’s Oil Sands: Balance. Opportunity. This campaign included a North America and European speaking tour by the Premier.
2010: the Alberta government rolled out a slick $25-million “Tell It Like It Is” oilsands promotional campaign that included advertisements in London’s Piccadilly Circus and New York City’s Times Square. The multimedia blitz includes CDs and DVDs about “Alberta’s Clean Energy Future” and “A conversation on oilsands and the environment” – which features commentary from provincial experts.
2012: the Alberta government announced it was spending $77,000 on a pro-Keystone XL Pipeline advertising campaign during the Premier’s visit to Washington DC and hired lobbyists to directly lobby US officials.
2012: the federal Conservative government assigned Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. in order to counter campaigns launched by an environmental advocacy groups targeting the oilsands.
2013: the federal Conservative government launched a advertising campaign directed at American politicians ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the United States. The ad campaign described Canada as a “world environmental leader” on oil and gas development.
2018: the Alberta government spent more than $23 million promoting its KeepCanadaWorking advertising campaign in support of the expansion of the Trans Mountain PIpeline from Alberta to British Columbia.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon announced through press release and a video on YouTube that the “war on fun” being waged by the “nanny state” was coming to an end as the government relaxes alcohol restrictions at festivals and in parks, including lifting the annual ban on liquor in provincial campgrounds over the May long weekend.
Kenney referenced prohibition-era laws in the video, but the May long weekend ban at some provincial campgrounds was only first imposed in 2004, when Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta. Klein had supposedly sworn-off alcohol by that point in his political career but he could hardly be described as a prohibitionist.
The 2004 government press release reinforced the reason for the ban: “During the 2003 May long weekend, there were a total of 239 recorded liquor-related enforcement action occurrences in Alberta’s 68 provincial parks, including written warnings, charges, arrests and evictions.”
Campers in parks across Alberta will find out quickly whether this or future May long weekends result in a return to the alcohol-fuel chaos that led to the ban in the first place.
The company that owns the Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Journal and dozens of other daily and local newspapers in Alberta and across Canada has hired a lobbyist to “to discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”
During the election campaign, Kenney pledged to fund a $30-million “war room” to respond to critics of the oil and gas industry, including environmental groups and Bill Nye (the Science Guy). The energy war room is essentially a $30-million public relations subsidy for some of the wealthiest corporations operating in Canada’s oil and gas sector.
It would appear that Postmedia is fishing for a cut of the war room advertising money, likely for its “Content Works” division, which creates advertisements in the style of an editorial or news article. Literal fake news funded by taxpayers. The whole thing stinks.
Postmedia’s conservative editorial bias is well-known. Despite attempts by some local editors-in-chief to maintain local autonomy, the Toronto-based company has in required its newspapers to publish prescribed election endorsements of Conservative parties across the country.
This is not the first time Canada’s largest media company has become involved with oil and gas industry advocacy. In 2014, it was revealed that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers made a pitch to Postmedia Network’s board of directors to create an “Energy Channel Sponsorship” for Postmedia newspapers to “amplify” CAPP’s “energy mandate.”
And as Postmedia is positioning itself for a role in the war room, its CEO Paul Godfrey is one of the key players agitating for funding from a new $595 million federal government media fund.
So this weekend as you relax in your lawn chair in one of Alberta’s beautiful provincial parks, forget about toasting a monarch who has been dead for 118-years, as Kenney and Nixon did in their video. Instead, raise a responsible drink or two for efforts to combat climate change, the freedom of the press, and for those poor reporters working for Postmedia who are just trying to do good journalism despite the best attempts of their bosses in Toronto.
When I first heard about the controversy swelling around United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney‘s former domestic arrangements, I was very reluctant to write about or event comment on the issue. It even took me a few days to be convinced that it might be more than just the political pot-shot of the week.
Kenney’s past domestic arrangements ballooned into a big political issue this week when it was revealed that, for a period of time while serving in Ottawa, the former seven-term MP and senior cabinet minister designated the basement of his parents home in a Calgary retirement community as his primary residence.
During his time in Ottawa from 1997 to 2016, Kenney appears to have always designated his primary residence in Calgary, which is to be expected even if he did not spend much time in the city during his time as a senior cabinet minister. This is probably not uncommon for a lot of MPs or cabinet ministers. But it did mean he was eligible for a $900 per month subsidy to pay for the cost of his secondary residence in Ottawa.
There is no hard evidence that Kenney actual broke any House of Commons rules – rules written by MPs for MPs – but his decision to declare his primary residence as the basement of his parents house in a Calgary retirement community is… very unusual, to say the least.
Then there is also the related issue of Kenney donating $399.00 to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party while his primary residence was in Alberta, an act he was prohibited from doing unless he was a resident of Ontario.
The only reason Albertans are talking about this controversy, and why I am writing about it, is Ottawa-based lawyer Kyle Morrow, who for the past few months has been sharing a treasure-trove of research and political criticisms of Kenney on social media. Morrow is originally from Alberta and was the Liberal Party candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka in the 2012 provincial election. But from his political perch in Ottawa, Morrow has been researching and tweeting all sorts of tidbits and information about Kenney from his 19 years as an Ottawa politician.
The UCP and the usual cast of characters, including Postmedia columnists Licia Corbella and Rick Bell, quickly leapt to Kenney’s defence, claiming that this was an unfair personal attack by Morrow against Kenney and his elderly mother, and dismissing anyone who attacks the party leader as a victim of Kenney Derangement Syndrome.
The furious response by the UCP leads me to believe that Morrow hit a very sensitive nerve by raising this issue. Despite it already being part of Kenney’s public record from his time in Ottawa, the party clearly did not like it being talked about at all. But the tone and volume of their response has only drawn more attention to the issue.
All this political ruckus does raise the question about what a young Jason Kenney, who burst onto Alberta’s political scene in the early 1990s in the form of an aggressive anti-tax crusader, would have to say about the unusual living arrangements of his senior self. There is more than a little bit of irony that Kenney made a name for himself at the start of his political career as a fierce critic of Progressive Conservative excess, including PC MLAs who were themselves twisted in knots over their own housing expense scandal before the 1993 election.
This is not the first time Kenney has faced controversy over his MP expenses. In 2001, he was criticized for spending $121,000 on taxpayer funded flights for MPs, in part, to allegedly campaign for Stockwell Day‘s bid to retain the leadership of the Canadian Alliance.
But like that controversy, I doubt this will damage Kenney’s electoral prospects to any significant extent.
Kenney’s UCP is sitting with a mighty comfortable lead over the NDP in every public poll that has been released in the past year and the party raised a whopping $3,922,950.21 in the final four months of 2018.
And it is possible that Kenney’s critics have jumped the shark.
The fairly wonkish details that surround Kenney’s unusual housing arrangements make it difficult to explain in easy and short soundbites and will likely be lost on most Alberta voters. Some political watchers have expressed the opinion that it could be seen as a witch-hunt gone too far and an issue that allows Kenney to highlight his relationship with his family, which is not a side we have seen since the career politician jumped back into provincial politics in 2017.
While this story did not originate from the New Democratic Party, it does fit with the hit-a-week the governing party has been launching at Kenney for more than the past year. And while there is hope among the NDP that the growing number of controversies will develop into a narrative around Kenney and the UCP, none of the individual controversies, even ones that are easier to explain, appear to be hitting the intended target.
Last weekend, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms president John Carpay told a crowd at a gathering of conservative activists in Calgary:“How do we defeat today’s totalitarianism? Again, you’ve got to think about the common characteristics. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hammer and sickle for communism, or whether it’s the swastika for Nazi Germany or whether it’s a rainbow flag, the underlying thing is a hostility towards individual freedoms.”
Carpay quickly apologized for the comments, but drawing the connection between the rainbow pride flag, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and LGBTQ social movements, and the hammer and sickle and swastika flags, symbols of oppressive and totalitarian regimes, was a step too far.
Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote in the Calgary Herald that Carpay’s comments were “disgusting, demeaning and dangerous.”
This is notthe first bozo-eruption to dog the UCP leader, but it appears to be the first made by someone with strong political ties to Kenney. The UCP leader spoke at a JCCF event in 2017 where he is reported to have compared Carpay’s work to that of civil-rights activist Rosa Parks.
Carpay and Kenney are social conservative activists from Calgary and have been in the same political circles for decades. Carpay is known for staking out controversial positions popular among social conservatives, whether it be in opposition to abortion or gay rights or, more recently, to student-led anti-bullying clubs known as Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools.
As a delegate at the UCP’s policy conference earlier this year he spoke in support of a policy that would allow teachers to inform parents when students participate in GSAs, a policy that would out some students to their parents. “This is about parental rights. The only societies and governments that trample on parental rights are totalitarian ones,” Carpay was reported to have said at the May 2018 UCP policy meeting.
Kenney was quick to pounce on Strashok, declaring that he had ordered party officials to cancel his membership. But Kenney appears to be less eager to dish out a similar fate to Carpay.
The UCP leader’s soft-peddling in response to Carpay is puzzling to many UCP supporters, including some who attended today’s sold-out Edmonton Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where Kenney spoke to a packed ballroom. Speaking to attendees before and after Kenney’s speech, I have the impression that while the UCP’s economic message resonated with the crowd there was an unease and discomfort with Kenney’s social conservative baggage.
Attendees to today’s luncheon may not be alone in their unease. A recent survey released by Abacus Data shows Kenney’s approval ratings are far below support for the party he leads, suggesting that many Albertans like the idea of a UCP government much more than they like the idea of Premier Jason Kenney.
Kenney’s slow response to the most recent bozo-eruption is likely because social conservative activists, like those who support anti-abortion groups Right Now and the Wilberforce Project, anti-GSA Parents for Choice in Education, and Carpay’s JCCF, are key players in the political coalition that Kenney has built during his almost three decades in politics.
Kenney has never hesitated to take hard-line stances against opponents like Premier Rachel Notley, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, environmentalists Tzeporah Berman and David Suzuki, and even actor Jane Fonda. It is now time for Kenney to prove to Albertans that he can also take an equally hard-line against the social conservative forces that are embarrassing his own party.
If the Alberta government could tax all the hot air at today’s anti-carbon tax rally in Calgary the deficit could be paid off.
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford will hold a joint “Scrap the Carbon Tax” rally in downtown Calgary this evening on the second leg of the Central Canadian Premier’s anti-carbon tax tour of Western Canada.
Kenney hopes to turn Alberta’s 2019 provincial election into a referendum on the NDP government’s carbon tax. And federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer hopes to turn next October’s expected federal election into a referendum on Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.
Even if you are a progressive, it is worth listening to Manning on this issue because he does make some good points. Here are Manning’s five pieces of advice from 2014 and my impressions on how the NDP and opposition conservatives have reacted:
1. Avoid using the word “tax” in conjunction with pricing pollution or greenhouse gas emissions.
The NDP government launched the program as a Carbon Levy, but it did not take long for conservative voices in the opposition and opinion pages of the province’s Postmedia-owned newspapers to rebrand it as a carbon tax. Alberta governments in the past have tried to brand new taxes with different names, such as the Health Care Premium introduced by Ralph Klein and the Health Care Levy proposed by Jim Prentice before the 2015 election.
2. Ask, “Out of whose mouth will our message be most credible?”
Manning raised the point that politicians, political staff and lobbyists typical rank at the very bottom of the public trust scale, so the government will need to find different voices to promote the program. The NDP did very well at the launch of the Climate Leadership Plan, uniting environmental and industry leaders in a way that no Alberta government has done before.
The NDP government earned a lot of praise for their Climate Leadership Plan from economists, environmental and industry leaders, and even a mention from former United States President Barack Obama in his speech to the Canadian House of Commons in 2016. But they did not necessarily do an effective job selling the program, especially the carbon levy, to Albertans.
As Graham Thomson explained in his new gig as a political columnist for CBC, the carbon tax is “the kind of thing opposition politicians can demonize in 10 seconds while the government needs five minutes worth of graphs and charts to explain.”
You can find lost of Albertans who are supportive of the carbon tax but will admit to being a little confused about how it actually works.
3. In selling an unfamiliar concept or policy solution, start where the public’s head is, not where yours is.
“In broaching climate change with the public, don’t start by making scientific declarations to people who rarely read or think about science,” Manning wrote in 2014. “Far better to start with the climate change effects our audience is already aware of, particularly in resource-producing areas, and then present the science to help explain. For example, start with British Columbia loggers’ awareness that winters are no longer cold enough to kill the pine beetle, or Alberta drill crews’ awareness that it’s taking longer for muskeg to freeze and allow drilling each fall.”
I believe there is broad recognition in Alberta that climate change needs to be addressed but the sharp downturn in the price of oil and the continued political wrangling over the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline have distracted the public’s attention on energy and environmental issues. The opposition was successful in branding the carbon tax as damaging to the economy at a time when many Albertans had lost or were on the verge of losing their jobs, especially in Calgary and some rural areas.
The NDP government also may have made a strategic error by arguing the Climate Leadership Plan would create the social license needed to convince British Columbians that a pipeline expansion is needed also knee-capped the carbon tax when the project stalled. Tying the carbon tax to the pipeline was a gamble, and it, so far, does not appear to have paid off.
We are also in the era of Donald Trump and conservative politicians across Canada have interpreted his success south of the 49th parallel as a license to engage in a similar angry populist tone. Conservative strategists in Alberta seem to believe that Ford’s victory in Ontario is the key to success and plan to embrace a similar campaign here in Alberta. Whether the abandonment of moderate conservatism in favour of populist rhetoric and climate change denial will lead to success in the long-term is yet to be seen.
4. Be honest about the ultimate costs to consumers.
Manning argued that “it’s possible to make environmental levies “revenue neutral” by reducing income taxes” and the initial argument from the NDP government that the cost of the carbon levy would be “revenue neutral” was confusing, unconvincing and quickly debunked.
A carbon tax does not need to be revenue neutral and the NDP bought into a naturally conservative idea by arguing so from the beginning. The NDP should have been up front about the cost while also reminding Albertans that we already pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada and our government is desperate for additional revenue to fund our public services.
After decades of rich oil and gas royalties pouring into public coffers, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.
5. Be balanced – Canadians love balance.
It may have been poorly communicated but I believe the Climate Leadership Plan is actually a fairly balanced and largely conservative initiative. By their very nature, carbon pricing is a free market idea and it was embraced by Conservative partisans until their opponents implemented these policies.
Despite being demonized as a leftist ideological wealth redistribution program, the plan listened to industry leaders in allowing for significant growth in the oil sands while providing incentives to decrease carbon footprint and increase energy efficiency.
Manning wrote in 2010 that “[t]here is no inherent reason why conservatives should be ambivalent on the environment, since conservation and conservatism come from the same root, since living within our means ecologically is a logical extension of living within our means fiscally, and since markets (in which conservatives strongly believe) can be effectively harnessed to environmental conservation.”
But today’s Conservatives not only have abandoned their support for carbon pricing and have used some of Manning’s advice as a manual to attack government action on climate change. Conservatives are united against the carbon tax, but remain silent on how or if they even have any ideas to address climate change.
We know that today’s Conservatives oppose the carbon tax, and many of them outright deny the existence of climate change. It is yet to be seen whether they will propose an alternative to the carbon tax that is more than angry politicians and hot air.
Principe is a dental hygienist who placed a strong third in the October 2017 city council race that saw incumbent councillor Dave Loken unseated by Jon Dzadyk. Her October 2017 bid was most notable because of the money spent by the three major candidate in that contest.
In that municipal contest, a campaign budget of $119,937.69 could not save two-term councillor Dave Loken from defeat in October 2017. Loken placed second to Jon Dziadyk, whose campaign only expensed $9,950.00, and he finished narrowly ahead of third place candidate Principe, whose campaign expensed $4,941.54.
Nielsen was first elected in 2015 with 67.9 percent of the vote and is seeking his party’s nomination for re-election. Former NDP candidate Ali Haymour has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Schmidt nominated in Edmonton-Gold Bar
NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt has been nominated as his party’s candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar.
As noted in a previous article, Schmidt was first elected in 2015, earning 68 percent of the vote in the 2015 election. He now serves as Minister of Advanced Education and will face a rematch against UCP candidate David Dorward, who Schmidt defeated in 2015 and placed a strong second against in 2012.
Lacombe-Ponoka UCP vote today
UCP members in the Lacombe-Ponoka district are selecting their candidate today. Incumbent MLA Ron Orr is facing a challenge from Lacombe City Councillor Thalia Hibbs. The polls close at 5:00 p.m.
“I look for a government that has the same interest that I do, and my interest is Alberta first,” he said, according to a Postmedia report. “I see some really good moves in terms of listening to all of us — whether or not we supported the party. Politics aside, are we after the same thing? To me, it appears we are. We want Alberta to be better, to have good opportunities.”
Lefurgey was a candidate for the Separation Party of Alberta in the Airdire-Chestermere district in the 2004 election. He earned 394 votes.
Lefurgey is also the current President of the Freedom Conservative Party association in Strathmore-Brooks, the district currently represented by Fildebrandt. It is the party’s only registered constituency association.
The party’s Facebook page still does not yet reflect the June 2018 name change, though someone is continuing to post new content a few times a week, which includes some internet conspiracy theories that are typically seen on the right-wing political fringes of the internet.
In one Facebook post, which sounds like something that might be inspired by the anti-semitic 1935 Social Credit campaign, Fildebrandt’s new party wants to make sure that Albertans “Don’t find yourself waking up one day to find that the World Bank or George Soros and Aga Khan own your financial institutions. You will then understand what you should have done to stop the UN, the Songbird initiative, the Boreal Initiative, Y to Y and the Leap Manifesto and take your country back from the elites!“
The last notable leader of a separatist party elected to the Legislature was Gordon Kesler, who was elected as a Western Canadian Concept candidate in the Olds-Didsbury by-election of 1982. Much of Kesler’s activities in the Legislature included opposing official bilingualism and protesting the introduction of the metric system.
As party leader, Fildebrandt could petition to join the mainstream media organized televised leaders debates during the next election. This was a status Kesler was denied when Peter Lougheed refused to debate him on TV. Kesler was defeated in the 1982 general election.
Fildebrandt remains popular in his district and is a formidable political campaigner. We should expect him to face off against UCP MLA Leela Aheer in the new Strathmore-Chestermere district in next year’s election. He might have a shot at winning, and he might not be alone.
Fildebrandt told Postmedia’s Don Braid that his party plans to contest UCP safe seats in the next election. His criticism of the UCP for their last-minute disqualification of perceived front-runner S. Todd Beasley in the neighbouring Brooks-Medicine Hat district could be the first step in a candidate recruitment strategy. It could also be an early sign that the Freedom Conservative Party might be a home for disgruntled and disqualified United Conservatives in the Alberta’s provincial election.
Yep, Derek Fildebrandt is still a giant thorn in Jason Kenney’s side.
Photo: Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer and former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who she endorsed in the 2017 UCP leadership contest (source: Facebook)
The contest for the United Conservative Party nomination in the new Chestermere-Strathmore district turned nasty this week when it was revealed that MLA and UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer attempted to seek a restraining order against one of her opponents.
The Calgary Herald reported that Aheer discontinued the action against David Campbell the day before the application was to be heard in court. The dispute was apparently the result of a confrontation between Aheer and Campbell at a June 14 meeting of the local UCP association. The application had asked for a court order keeping Campbell 200 metres away from her and her home.
The Calgary Sun later reported that Campbell was in Court of Queen’s Bench seeking legal costs in the case he described as an effort to shut him out of the nomination process.
“In actual fact, “win at all cost” cronyism may be worse today than in the past, led disappointingly by former Wildrosers who are close to smelling the sweet scent of leadership, influence, and authority,” Campbell wrote.
The UCP has set June 28 as the deadline for candidates to enter the nomination contest in Chestermere-Strathmore. A nomination meeting has been scheduled for July 19, 2018. Declared candidates include Aheer, Campbell, Mark Giesbrecht, and Pamela Hilton.
Amid political gong-show, Postmedia shuts down local newspaper
And as real political news worth reporting is happening in their community, it was announced today that the Strathmore Standard is one of the latest victims of Postmedia’s budget axe. The Standard was founded in 1909 and its departure will leave a big gap in news coverage in the community of more than 13,000 residents east of Calgary.
Also being shuttered by Postmedia is the Camrose Canadian, which first started publishing in 1908. The High River Times will now publish one edition per week, down from twice weekly.
Kinder Morgan Inc. has given the provincial and federal governments a deadline of May 31, 2018 to sort out the political dispute over the expansion of the already existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. But it appears as though federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau saying the federal government is willing to offer significant financial support to the corporation to compensate for any inconveniences our Canadian system of federalism and democracy may cause the Texas-based corporation.
Singh shows up to the party:Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh finally waded into the debate over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline today. Singh tweeted that “Liberals are giving Texas oil company #KinderMorgan a blank cheque while dumping all the risks on Canadians. Rigged process, First Nations & local communities shut out, oil spill threats, science ignored & now billions on the line It’s clear this pipeline should not be built.”
Singh’s choice to oppose the pipeline reflects the composition of his federal caucus of 43 Members of Parliement, which includes 1 MP from Alberta and 14 MPs from British Columbia.
Giant new provincial park: Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips announced the creation of five new wildland provincial parks covering 1.3 million hectares of new protected areas in northern Alberta. Along with the Wood Buffalo National Park, and the Caribou Mountains Wildland Provincial Park these new wildland provincial parks are the biggest contiguous legislated protection the world’s boreal forest. According to a Government of Alberta press release, the new protected areas were created through a partnership with the provincial and federal governments, the Tallcree First Nation, Syncrude and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
“Other planning processes underway will further protect under-represented ecosystems and habitats for woodland caribou. We look forward to Alberta becoming the first jurisdiction in Canada to achieve the benchmark of 17 per cent of its landscapes as legislatively protected areas as landscape planning is completed in other parts of the province,” Dyer said.
Do as I say, not as I do: It was not long ago that United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney declared that “I believe that we can have a respectful debate on ideas without resorting to the nasty politics of personal destruction.”
But this week, Kenney unleashed the nasty politics of personal destruction against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a column written by Postmedia’s Rick Bell. Of Trudeau, Kenney claimed that “He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. This guy is an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl. He can’t read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin, O.K.”
Kenney’s harsh words give an indication of how relations between Alberta and Ottawa could sour if he becomes Premier of Alberta in 2019.
The documents mostly include generic and predictable partisan conservative policy proposals with a focus on repealing many of the laws and policies implemented by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government since 2015. But not surprisingly, a number of policies submitted from the right-wing fringe of the UCP make it into this list.
Introduction of more private schools and increased parental control in education (code for undermining student-led Gay-Straight Alliances), removing funding for abortion services, cutting the size of the public service and public sector employee pay, allowing MLA recall votes, and defining family as the union of a man, a woman and their offspring are among the controversial proposals included in the list submitted by UCP members.
While many of the policies included in this document will not actually become official party policy, the list of proposed policies provides a glimpse into the priorities of the UCP membership in 2018. As noted in Braid’s column, a “final list of resolutions, about 250, won’t be disclosed until members and journalists get their convention packages on Friday.” Those policies will be debated by members at this weekend’s UCP meeting.
Support for Rachel Notley’s NDP is at 43 percent in Edmonton with the Wildrose at 26 percent and the PCs at 21 percent. In Calgary, the PCs are at 38 percent with the NDP at 26 percent and the Wildrose at 22 percent. In the rest of Alberta, a fairly broad term describing rural areas and medium and small urban areas, the Wildrose dominates with 48 percent support, the PCs with 27 percent and the NDP trailing with 16 percent.
The existence of the three political worlds is not new in Alberta politics, but it helps explain the deep political divisions that exist in our province today.
If an election were held today, the Wildrose Party might stand a chance at forming a rural-based government without the need to merge with the PC Party. But the poll results support my argument that rural-based Wildrose has limited appeal big urban cities like Calgary, where the PCs still hold a considerable amount of support. As provincial electoral districts are redrawn to reflect population growth in urban areas, the Wildrose might need the PC merger more than PCs need Wildrose.
The NDP is traditionally strong in Edmonton and it is not surprising that they have held on to much of their support in the capital city.
It is not surprising to see the NDP doing poorly outside Edmonton. The bungled roll-out of Bill 6, the province’s new farm safety laws, salted the earth of NDP support in rural Alberta.
NDP support in Calgary was in the low-30 percent range in the 2015 election, so that they have been able to hold on to 26 percent support leaves room for very guarded optimism for the governing party (their traditional level of support in Calgary is around 5 percent). High unemployment levels caused by the drop in the international price of oil is a source of hostility directed at the sitting government but the NDP could have room to rebound in Calgary if competing against a Wildrose-dominated conservative party in the next election.
Fight on the Right
The poll showed 48 percent of Edmontonians opposed the idea of a merger between the PCs and Wildrose parties, with 42 percent supporting the idea. Support for a merger was stronger in Calgary, at 53 percent, and outside the two large cities at 58 percent.
While some sort of new party will likely exist, it is not quite clear if a merger is what will actually take place. Jason Kenney, who is running on a platform of “uniting conservatives,” has at various times promised a merger (which is not legally possible), the creation of a brand new party or possibly preserving the PC Party. Wildrose leader Brian Jean has said any new party should form within the already existing framework of the Wildrose Party. So it remains unclear what the form a “new” conservative party might take in 2019.
Meanwhile, Jean has been holding town hall meetings across the province in his role as leader of the Wildrose Party, but presumably he is campaigning against Kenney for the leadership of a future Wildrose-dominated conservative party (maybe).
It is always important to look at all polls with a grain of salt, as they are a snapshot of individual responses given at a certain time. As we have come to learn in Alberta, voters do change their minds from time to time and what happens during election campaigns does matter.